New Zealand 2020 – Part 9

The past couple of days have been a mixture of culture, friendship and memory lane. As Tuesday dawned rather grey and uncertain, we decided to find something to do that was inside rather than out, so we set off for the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The museum is an imposing building within a tranquil park, which has beautiful views of the harbour. Since 1929 it was also served as a place of remembrance for the many New Zealander’s who have sacrificed their lives in war.

New Zealanders take their history in combat very seriously and choose to honour the memories of the sacrifices made by so few, for so many. Therefore, every year on ANZAC Day, there is a very well attended dawn parade service at the cenotaph, which stands on consecrated ground.

We spent most of our time there browsing the Maori collection. For me, the highlights of this were the wharenui, which is the Maori name for a ‘big house’ – more commonly known as a whare. And the waka. The whare is a communal house, generally situated as the focal point of a marae, which is a fenced in complex of buildings that belongs to a particular iwi (tribe), hapu (sub-tribe), or whanau (family). It is very much a place of belonging for the Maori people. Wakas are Maori watercraft, usually canoes, variously used for fishing, travel and for war. They are often beautiful and ornately carved.

I was curious as to why the museum had hung a map of NZ on the wall, on its side, rather than the ‘right way up’. As we looked further around the exhibits, we came across a digital depiction of Captain Cook’s mapping of the country in 1769, and it is clear that he arrived from the east, first stopping on the east coast of the North Island. Therefore, Aotearoa – The Land of the Long White Cloud – would have been seen from this angle! It was quite interesting to have my perception of the shape of NZ so challenged!

There were many beautiful things to see in the museum.

One thing I really liked was that there was free entry for Aucklanders, and that New Zealander’s from elsewhere were invited to make donations. The only fixed charge was for tourists, and I did not have a problem with paying for the privilege of going there. I think it is such a good idea to make the treasures of the museum as accessible as possible for the local people.

After leaving the museum, we went onto the Winter Gardens, further down the Domain. Despite their name, they were actually full of wonderful summer flowers! Such a spectacular show of colour!

In the grounds of the Domain, an old tree was particularly eye catching, as it seemed to take on a tangled, animated life of its own, sprawling its way across the grass.

The next day the blue skies returned, and I revisited some old haunts, spending some time in Devonport and Takapuna.

Rangitoto Island is a dormant volcano, which last saw active service some 800 years ago. It is still an imposing sight, standing resolute in the Hauraki Gulf. People may come and go, but Rangitoto remains steadfast. If the old island could talk, I’m sure it would have many interesting tales to tell!

I particularly enjoyed seeing the old colonial style houses that can be found all over NZ, but especially in this part of Auckland.

My time in NZ is going way too fast. I am already over half way through my stay. Perhaps by the end of it, I will feel ready to go home. But then again…

New Zealand 2020 – Part 8

Another day, another waterfall, another beach!

Today I went to the west Auckland town of Piha. Our first stop was the Kitekite Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in the Waitakere Ranges. Due to current problems with kauri die-back, NZ’s most famous, and mighty tree is experiencing all sorts of ill health, including root rot, bleeding resin, defoliation and ultimately mortality. As a result, all public entry to the bush is being monitored, and everyone has to ensure their shoes are clean as they both enter and leave the bush. To facilitate this, there are purpose built ‘turnstiles’ through which all visitors must go. First you scrape your shoes on a bristly brush. Then, you step on a footplate that dips the bottom of your shoe into disinfectant. It doesn’t take long, and people seem to be happy to comply, which isn’t surprising. Anything that we can do to help minimise, and hopefully eradicate, the die-back should be wholeheartedly supported!

Once we had cleared immigration (!), we started the walk up to the falls. The track had some parts boardwalk, but mostly it was the kind of uneven ground that would be expected in the bush.

I was glad to see some young kauri was thriving. When I say young, perhaps 100-200 years old.

The climb to the falls gradually became steeper. To the left of the track, the ground fell steeply away, which was an incentive to be sure to look where you were going!

We could hear the falls before we could see them, but when we got to the point on the track where we could catch the first glimpse, it was spectacular!

We then began a descent to the foot of the falls, which was quite busy with other people. Some were swimming in the pool at the bottom of the falls. Others were exploring the rocks around about. I dipped a toe into the pool. It was quite cold! I was definitely not one of the hardy souls who were happy to dive straight in – or indeed, dive in at all!

You can walk from here another track to the top of the falls, but we felt we had already seen the best of Kitekite (original Maori name being Ketekete), so we retraced our steps back to the start. Along the way we were rewarded by seeing a fantail, flitting around the bush. It had its tail properly fanned out and was a delight to behold! I was told that fantails have a life span of only three years and that probably because of this, for Maori’s, they are a sign of death.

After a brief lunch break, we went to South Piha beach, which in common with Raglan is a world famous surfing beach. There seemed to be a surf school going on at the southern most end of the beach, as a constant stream of wet-suited, board-carrying people of all ages made their way into the sea. Also like Raglan, it has black, volcanic sand which today was scorching underfoot! We took the foot friendly route along the estuary to the main beach, where the wet sand was easier (and much cooler!) to navigate.

Standing in the middle of South Piha, the iconic Lion Rock, which juts proudly into the sea, was to our right. It really was an impressive sight.

This was the busiest I had yet seen a NZ beach, but there was still plenty of space and you didn’t feel like you were right on top of your neighbours. Lifeguards were on duty and swimming was only permitted between the flags. It didn’t take long to work out why. There were many different currents operating in the bay – some pulling left to right, some pushing in from the sea and others dragging you out and, if you weren’t careful, sucking you under.

We spent quite a while out in the surf, bodyboarding back to the shore. It was such fun! But I was also aware of how far ‘off course’ the tide would take me and was very grateful for the watchful presence of the lifeguards.

What a truly awesome place!

One thing I have learned about the black sand of Piha is that it likes to stick around long after the visit has been made. This sand does NOT want to leave your clothes, or your skin! But it was such a beautiful, fun, worthwhile visit and I would highly recommend it!

New Zealand 2020 – Part 7

Today I visited Maraetai Beach – a place I used to go to a lot back in the day. It has changed very little in the 20 years since I have been there, although the parking is a little more organised these days and, of course, there are way more houses than ever there was. It seems that NZ has expanded quite rapidly during the past ten years or so. I suppose the same could be said for many places, but it seems particularly obvious in a land where there used to be so much, well, land!

It was a sparkling day, with a bright blue sky, punctuated by fluffy white clouds.

The water shimmered in various shades of turquoise, while across the water, Waiheke Island framed the view with lush greens.

After lunch at the Maraetai Wharf Store, we went for a stroll along the beach.

We saw two wakas, which belonged to the Maketu Marae, which oddly enough is a little bit further south of Raglan, where I was the other day!

They were directly across the road from the Umupuia Marae, so I assume they were visiting for a while.

It was another lovely trip down memory lane/beach. What a privilege it is to be here.

New Zealand 2020 – Part 6

This morning, we set a course west and headed for the coastal town of Raglan. The journey from Cambridge took around an hour, and as we approached Raglan, the road became much more twisty and winding. The scenery was stunning, and more than enough to keep anyone happily occupied.

Raglan used to be quite a small town, but as with so many other places in NZ, its population seems to have exploded in recent years. Although it’s a little too far away from a big town for my liking, it’s not hard to see why so many people are flocking to live there. It is beautiful!

The black sand is due to the volcanic region in which Raglan is situated. Mt Karioi in the Pirongia Forest Park, is close by, and is (I am happy to report!) an extinct volcano. In very hot weather, black sand is very hard (by which I mean hot!) to walk on, but today it was merely beautifully warm and I was pleased to take a walk along the water’s edge and even paddle in the sea!

I was particularly pleased to see several stunning examples of the beautiful pohutukawa tree, the red blossom of which, combined with its flowering period that coincides with December, is known as the New Zealand Christmas tree.

We stopped for lunch at ‘Raglan Fish’ and had the most delicious fish, chips and squid rings meal. I mean, in this location, what else would we have eaten?! I had gurnard for the first time. It is caught locally and could not have been fresher!

Raglan is on the west coast and there is pretty much nothing but sea for thousands of miles, between here and Australia, which is quite a freaky thought! This is also a very popular spot for surfing.

Overlooking the beach, there was an interesting compass, with statues standing at north, south, east and west – representing water, fire, earth and air at particular compass points.

From Raglan, we went to the Waireinga/ Bridal Veil Falls. A short walk through the bush took us to a look out point from which we could see the falls in all its glory!

Such a spectacular sight!

New Zealand 2020 – Part 5

This morning I had a little look around the Waikato town of Cambridge, which is not at all like its namesake in England!

Again, we had ate breakfast/ brunch out (I could get used to this!) and the bacon and egg pie, with strawberries and cream fruit tea went down an absolute treat!

This afternoon belonged to Le Papillon Day Spa, where my friend and I were booked to have a massage, facial and time in the pool and sauna. It is set in a beautiful location, just outside of Cambridge. We were welcomed by Yolanda, the owner, and just the two of us had sole use of the facilities.

I was first to have the massage. Afterwards, I had time in the spa pool while my friend had her massage. Once she was finished, we were served a lovely platter of cheese, crackers and grapes and spent some time together enjoying the food and pool, as well as the beauty of a fantail, that flitted round about us, settling here and there for short periods of time before darting off into the trees once more.

It was then time for my facial which was so relaxing, I very nearly fell asleep in the chair! While my friend enjoyed the same treatment, I was able to enjoy the peaceful beauty of the surroundings once more.

I can honestly say I can’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed!

After tea, we went for a drive to Maungakawa. The views from the top were amazing!

I’m told that on a clear day, from the top of Maungakawa, you can see all the way to Mt Ruapehu, which is in the centre of the North Island. Apparently, you an also discern Mt Taranaki, way over on the west coast of the North Island. Sadly, it was too hazy to see either of these, but nonetheless, the view was absolutely incredible!

New Zealand 2020 – Part 4

What an amazing day!

I went with friends to Rotorua, a favourite NZ destination, and en-route we stopped at the small town of Tirau for brunch. The Cabbage Tree Cafe served a delicious big breakfast, and to top off the fun, we were invited to sign their visitor’s book – the wall! By virtue of the fact that there was actually no room left on any of the walls, we ended up signing the ceiling!

After brunch, we crossed the road to have a look around the very unusual local shops.

All I can say is that I REALLY love the New Zealand sense of humour!

From Tirau, we went straight onto Rotorua and stopped at the Rotorua Skyline experience. We took a cable car to the top of the hill and the views from the top were spectacular!

We had a wander around at the summit. There were all sorts of activities on offer, including luging and a completely CRAZY swing that dropped out of the sky and swung at ridiculous speed back and forth…. while it was fun to watch, that was definitely not on my list of things to do, so I went to the cafe and had an iced chocolate drink instead!

After getting back onto solid ground, we moved onto Whakarewarewa, one of my most favourite places in Rotorua.

We had a lovely wander about the village. While it was very sunny and warm, it was also quite windy and the steam from the hot springs was blowing every which way, so that the smell of sulphur seemed to engulf me wherever I went.

We also watched a Maori concert, in which they sung the world famous ‘Po Karekare Ana’ and performed the equally iconic Haka.

In one of the small shops in the village, I saw a beautiful waka (Maori canoe) carved out of wood and jade. I asked the shopkeeper how much this was, and was staggered to learn it was $12000! It certainly was a one of a kind, unique piece of art, but lovely as it was, I didn’t feel I could justify spending that amount of money. So if anyone out there has a large sum of money and a burning desire to own a waka, I recommend you get yourself to Whakarewarewa as soon as possible, while stocks last!

It was another day where the weather was more than kind and the company was brilliant. What more could I ask for..? (Apart from a $12000 waka, of course!)

New Zealand 2020 – Part 3

Today has been a day of four distinct quarters.

This morning, I had the great pleasure of reacquainting myself with some friends made over 30 years ago, and have not seen since 1990. I surprised them by turning up at their church and waiting at the entrance for them to arrive. I was rewarded by a huge smile and the words, ‘I know you! It’s Katrina!’, before being wrapped up in the first of several enormous hugs.

This lovely lady made me feel like the most special thing to have happened to her in a long while and as we chatted, she told me she had always considered me a special person and often thought of me over the years.

The older I get, the more I am of the opinion that amassing great fortunes, or having expensive things is NOT what we are put on this earth to do, and will ultimately leave us feeling empty and unfulfilled. However, to touch the hearts of others, and to love and be loved, is precisely what we were designed to do.

I came away from that meeting feeling humbled, but also lifted up. That sounds like a contradiction in terms, but I am nothing if not contrary!

After lunch, we drove out of Papakura to the Hunua Falls. As a much younger person, I used to come to this place reasonably often, and I knew exactly what to expect. However, I was surprised by the large number of people who had a similar idea. Back in the day, it was a much less well beaten track!

In the winter months, and after heavy rain, the falls increase in width to span the whole of the top of the falls. In the summer, however, it is a thinner ribbon of white. That being said, it still lets out a mighty roar as the water rushes inexorably over the edge.

We took a short walk through the surrounding bush. The lush New Zealand foliage did not disappoint.

The sky was overcast, but became increasingly, and unusually dark. As we left, an eerie yellow hue had crept into the shadows, giving everything a sepia stain. The tragic reason for this is the terrible bush fires that have been ravaging Australia since last November. The whole of Auckland and many of its outer reaches had been affected by a plume of smoke which had traveled thousands of kilometres and which had blocked the sun and filtered out the blue light in the spectrum.

While the strange skies we were experiencing were a little unsettling (especially for the wildlife), it was nothing compared to the horror the Australian people are going through, and a reminder to take nothing in life for granted.

In the late afternoon, I drove from Papakura to Cambridge to visit some ex-pat English friends. Years ago, I regaled them with too many stories of how wonderful New Zealand is, and after a while they took me at my word and decided to emigrate! England’s loss is New Zealand’s gain – and has the added advantage of an extra reason (if one were needed) to come back to visit!

I enjoyed the drive down, and had to chuckle at some of the road names that I feel could only be found in this brilliant country!

It definitely lived up to its name!

When is a box not just a box..?

Sometimes you come across the most unlikely examples of human kindness and ingenuity, that it rekindles your hope for the long term prospects of all of us.

I am currently spending some time in the small, South Auckland town of Papakura. I lived here, many years ago, and am experiencing a weird sense of familiarity alongside change. I kind of belong here, but then again, I really don’t. Mind you, thanks to a transitory childhood/ early adulthood, that seems to be the story of my life!

Papakura has put into place a fabulously cool idea of communal gardens, in boxes, where its people are invited to pick from a selection of fresh herbs and vegetables. You can find the boxes dotted all around the town.

They call them ‘Urban Edibles.’

I call the people who have made this amazing idea into a reality ‘Urban Legends’!

New Zealand 2020 – Part 2

After arriving yesterday, and having slept for 11 beautiful hours, today I went with some of my friends from Papakura, where I am staying, to Devonport on the North Shore of Auckland.

We took a detour to Takapuna on the way, and the place where I lived for four years after first arriving in New Zealand. The navy housing in that area is gradually being demolished and the land redeveloped, but I was pleased to find my old house is still standing and although it looks quite sorry for itself, I regarded it with much fondness.

We took the ferry across to the city. The sea was quite choppy, but the journey was surprisingly smooth. It was slightly overcast, and there was some light rain, but we were soon city side.

Due to the earthworks going on in downtown Auckland, which will see a new rail network (including some underground routes) linking parts of Auckland together, the route to Queen Street was a little hampered. But we managed to get through, and spent a couple of happy hours wandering up one side of the street, and then down the other.

We went as far as Aotea Square, where we also stopped for lunch at a burger place called ‘Carl’s Jnr’.

I was really pleased to see the iconic Farmers Santa still smiling down on all Aucklanders, as I understand there is some doubt about how many more years he will be a Christmas feature. I hope it’s for a long time to come!

The journey back to Devonport saw bright, sunny skies and we sat on the outside upper deck, which gave great views of the city as we retreated from it.

Back in Devonport, we had a little look around. It’s such a pretty place, with small independent shops and cafes lining the street. I was particularly struck by a very large and unusual tree next to the library. It is a Moreton Bay fig tree (Australian, I think) and was planted in 1883. I’d like to think it will still be there in another 137 years!

On the way back to Papakura, we stopped at Sylvia Park, a large shopping mall in Mt Wellington, where amongst other things, I had my first experience of frozen coke!

It was such a lovely way to kick off my NZ trip. I can’t wait for the adventures to follow!

New Zealand 2020 – Part 1

I’m very excited to be going back to New Zealand, the country in which I spent ten of my most formative younger years, for the month of January. What’s more, this will be my first trip back without my family and I can’t wait to spend time, and catch up with my friends.There is just the small matter of 27 hours traveling between me and my dream. Bring it on!

My flight to Auckland was with Air New Zealand, via Los Angeles, on board the beauty below!

Having checked in online 24 hours beforehand, the baggage check in process at Heathrow was very straightforward. Security was also very quick. I had left plenty of time to get a bite to eat and have a mooch around the shops at Terminal 2, so I was feeling pretty relaxed when it came time to go to the gate – B36. It was a little bit of a walk to get to the gate, but it wasn’t too bad, especially as most of it was moving walkways and escalators.

Boarding was also very straightforward and well organised. My seat, 58G (an aisle seat, which for me is a MUST), meant that I boarded a little ahead of some others (but behind all the priority and ‘expensive seat’ passengers!). Of course, this also meant I was one of the last to disembark, so there are pros and cons to choosing a seat nearer to the back.

Take off was 20 minutes late, and a grey winter’s London day made for a very dull spectacle out of the window. However, it was amazing how bright the cabin suddenly became when we broke through the cloud cover and were met with a bright blue sky! I always think the clouds look like an Arctic landscape. It’s hard to believe they are not a solid mass, although I have no intention of free-falling out of the aeroplane to discover quite how intangible they are!

There was a very comprehensive entertainment package on board, which was navigable via the touch screen on the seat back in front, or a remote control. It is full of things to watch, do and listen to. You can also order drinks and snacks via this system, straight to your seat. However, I preferred to get up from my seat and walk around as much as possible, so I went to the galley on several occasions. The crew there were friendly and helpful and it was nice to while away some time chatting to them.

The meals were very nice, including Moroccan chicken with couscous, cheese, biscuits and fruit. There was also a selection of NZ wines from which to choose.

Transiting through LAX was every bit as annoying as I expected it to be. After disembarking, there was a walk to their immigration area, where an electronic self service check was done by scanning your passport into the machine, and looking into the attached camera. You were then granted (or not, I presume!) the first part of access to US soil. From there, you queued again to see an actual person, who once more checked your passport and took biometric fingerprints. This done, there was another walk to a departures security area, where you loaded all your carry on baggage through the x ray machines etc, before being allowed to then walk onto the gate to re-board the plane.

All of this procedure was as straightforward as it could possibly be, but in a busy airport terminal, and with several other flights loads of passengers all trying to do the same thing, it made for a frustration that was not altogether enjoyable!

Back on board the plane, everything had been cleaned and the seats restocked with headphones, blankets and pillows. I had the same people sitting next to me as in the first leg, and we settled into the second part of the journey. Although as comfortable and as well serviced as the first, by now, it was the middle of the night in England and I was beginning to feel quite fatigued. After a meal of chicken with pasta in a delicious sauce, I tried for as much sleep as the economy seat would allow. This worked, on and off, for four of five hours, but I spent much of the remaining hours watching films and getting up and down from my seat to get some exercise and keep the circulation going.

Finally, we were nearing Auckland. Two hours out, breakfast was served. The omelette and fruit were surprisingly tasty, and it was then only a short time before landing. Unfortunately, the cloud cover was such that seeing much out of the window was quite difficult. (Added to which, I was seated in the aisle of the centre row, so the windows were not too close by!) However, I did catch a glimpse of Auckland, with Rangitoto Island dominating the Hauraki Gulf, before the ground came up to greet us and we made a somewhat bumpy entrance onto NZ soil.

The captain made an announcement in Maori, and I felt a massive sense of coming home.

Harae Mai. Welcome.